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Beyond the Walls is a three-part French miniseries (basically the length of a longish movie) that follows the journey of Lisa, an emotionally shut-down woman who inherits a house from a mysterious stranger. This is possibly the best GU story I’ve encountered that takes place entirely inside a house. It is both creepy and emotionally powerful, and I like how Lisa is consistently strong in spirit, unable to be swayed by fear or temptation.

After hearing weird noises coming from inside the walls, she smashes through and finds herself in a labyrinthine, windowless, endless house – mostly empty but for the occasional terrifying once-human monsters called Others. She eventually runs into a single companion, Julian, who has been stuck in the house for years – though for him, it’s 100 years ago (time is strange in the house). It becomes apparent that those who end up in the house are struggling with some kind of deep guilt, and if they can’t face it they eventually become the Others. After many trials, Lisa finds a door that leads to a forest (though still, somehow, inside the house) and is reunited with the little sister she lost (partly due to her own negligence), who is living in a cottage by a lake with a mysterious older woman named Rose. It is always day there, always pleasant, and both Rose and her sister want her to stay there forever. But Lisa is not fooled by this charade and eventually finds her way back into the house proper to search for Julian, who she became separated from in the forest. They fall in love but realize they could only be together if they stayed there. Instead, they decide to pursue a return to the outside world, and venture down, down, down to the basement where a giant vortex-like hole leads to parts unknown. Rose reappears to try to tempt Lisa into staying, but instead she makes a leap of faith.

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It’s hard to talk about And the Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich, especially in regards to whether or not it’s a Girls Underground story, without entirely spoiling it, which I don’t want to do – this one is worth reading without any preconceptions. It’s a wonderfully gothic, disturbing, claustrophobic tale told in creative ways, that actually creeped me out in places (not easy to do, I’m getting more jaded to horror as I grow older).

Silla, who starts the story at 14, escapes her abusive father with her 4-year old sister in tow, and shows up on the door of her aunt’s crumbling mansion. But what she doesn’t know is that her aunt has a childhood secret that may threaten them all, involving the summoning of a dark spirit they call the Creeper Man. When her aunt goes mad and retreats to the attic, and the forest outside begins to edge ever closer to the house, cutting them off from any outside help (or food), Silla must battle her own inner demons to rescue herself and her sister. Her only companion is a mysterious boy who comes and goes, and may not be what he seems.

This is one of those GU sub-types that entirely takes place in a house (even when that house slowly becomes part of a forest), and uses that very effectively. When the final confrontation with the adversary comes, everything is turned on its head – but even though it takes an unusual approach to the archetype, I think it still fits. Also, this is a nice twist on the general trend for GU books to be YA fantasy and GU movies to be adult horror, since this is a YA horror book.

dreammaster

After recently re-watching New Nightmare, I thought I might re-visit some of the other installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, and ended up on 4: The Dream Master. Terrible movie, really, but what’s interesting from a Girls Underground perspective… the main character is named Alice. Now, I’ve noticed over time that Alice in Wonderland references pop up in a lot of GU examples. In this case, it’s not just the name – Alice is a pretty solid GU (no mother, useless father, trying to save friends and brother, faces adversary alone, etc.), but more importantly, she enters the otherworld through a mirror. And in fact, manages to defeat Freddy by showing him his reflection in a mirror. I always wonder if these allusions to Alice are intentional on the part of writers with GU stories.

dreammaster2

61MWiQ9VnEL._SL160_The Final Girls is probably just an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes, but worth mentioning, as it cleverly references the old slasher movies that are often themselves Girls Underground stories. I will also note that early on, there is a mention of the Persephone myth, and GU examples often will reference other GU stories (most often Alice, but sometimes older myths and fairytales).

Max loses her mother in a car crash, and years later tries to connect with her memory by going to see a showing of the movie that made her momentarily famous, an 80’s slasher film called Camp Bloodbath. Max and her friends get magically transported into the world of the movie, complete with killer on the loose, and Max finds herself trying to rescue her “mother” (really the character played by her mother). They become the “final girls” once all of Max’s friends and the other characters are killed off. But it is only when her mother sacrifices herself that Max gains the power to defeat the adversary – which somehow magically rescues all her friends and sends them home…. or so it seems.

51yyfiaCQkL._SL160_“They’ve changed the rules of the fairy tale. Now I’m not just the wicked stepmother. Now I’m the evil queen.”

Here’s another horror movie sequel that is a GU story in its own right: Hellbound (Hellraiser II).

Like the first movie, Kirsty fights both human and otherworldly adversaries. Having been put in an asylum, she must escape the machinations of her evil psychiatrist, who has summoned back her evil stepmother from the Cenobites’ dimension, as well as the Cenobites themselves (led by Pinhead). She is also trying to rescue her father, who may still be trapped there. She is helped by a much saner psychiatrist, and by a fellow patient who has been mute for years. Together they must navigate the labyrinthine (and carnivalesque!) otherworld.

Like many Girls Underground, Kirsty manages to defeat her adversary through clever trickery – however because this is the Hellraiser universe, it involves donning the bloody skin of her stepmother. Ew.

 

41Q-uPsfFsL._SL160_I mentioned Nightmare on Elm Street all too briefly in one of the earliest posts on this blog, and it remains the gold standard in my mind for GU horror movies. But I realized that I should make a separate post for the seventh film of the franchise, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which takes things to another level.

In this “metafilm,” the actors mostly play themselves – the protagonist is Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the original movie. Heather begins to have nightmares about the adversary, Freddy Krueger, coinciding with a pitch to make a new film in the series. Her husband is killed (by Freddy, althoug she doesn’t know it yet) and her son begins to exhibit strange behavior, and is unwilling to sleep because he is afraid of Freddy. So therefore Heather falls into the common adult GU role of having to rescue her child from the adversary.

The theory in this film is that there is a real evil spirit who predated Freddy but was sort of “captured” by the character… and then released into the real world when the series ended, still embodying the famous Freddy Krueger and still coming after his old prey by attacking the actress who played her. There is a sort of “betrayal by a companion” when one of Heather’s co-stars (who played her father and still acts as a father figure to her) is sort of possessed and becomes his character, instead of helping her.

Freddy takes Heather’s son to his realm in the otherworld, and she follows, going underground to his lair. In the end, she manages to defeat him for good. After returning to the real world, she finds a screenplay detailing everything that’s happened, including her defeat of the adversary, which she reads aloud to her son.

Aside from being a solid version of the GU horror trope, this is also a striking and somewhat chilling example of The Power of Story. Additionally, it’s interesting to note that Craven shows the evil entity behind Freddy was also the one behind the witch in Hansel & Gretel, another GU connection.

51u68zdhqQL._SL160_At the Devil’s Door is a fairly mediocre horror movie but with an honorable-mention level GU plot. You might think that the first character you meet, a teenage girl, is the Girl Underground, but it’s a bit more complicated. This girl is tricked into letting the devil take over her body, but the adversary hardly stops there.

Fast forward a couple decades, and there’s a real estate agent showing a house, when she sees the first girl in the hallway, and thinks it’s the missing daughter of the house’s owners. After finding out that the girl she’s seen is actually the first girl, the one who supposedly committed suicide in the house in the 80’s, the real estate agent confronts the devil-possessed girl and is killed. Another potential Girl bites the dust.

The real Girl Underground here is the agent’s sister Vera, who begins to uncover the story behind these events. She finds out that Hannah (the first girl) was pregnant when she died, although a virgin. Apparently the devil has been trying to bring forth a supernatural child to inhabit. Vera confronts the devil but is thrown out a window and goes into a coma for eight months, after which she discovers she is about to give birth to a baby. Vera is understandably freaked out, and gives the baby up for adoption.

Six years later, Vera decides to find her daughter, presumably possessed by the devil, and kill her. She confronts the little girl, who technically doesn’t confirm anything but acts creepy enough that you know she’s right. But Vera cannot bring herself to kill her, and so she takes the girl with her instead. This suggests another “girl loses” version of the archetype, which seems to mostly be present in the horror genre.

41QC-u7HTUL._SL160_I just watched Mr. Frost for the first time – somehow I missed this 1990 gem with Jeff Goldblum, who I love, and had to track it down on Youtube. Partway through it occurred to me that it was probably a GU story (which it is, although I’m only considering it an Honorable Mention since it’s missing a lot of the finer details).

Mr. Frost is clearly the adversary, a man who may or may not be the devil himself. He volunteers a confession to some brutal murders but then immediately falls silent, and is eventually put in a mental asylum, where he meets Dr. Sarah Day. Frost will only speak to Day, and tells her that he plans to goad her into killing him. She treats him like a mental patient, obviously, even though the detective who arrested him (her companion in this sense) keeps warning her that Frost is truly evil.

After several displays of his power, Day is gradually convinced that Frost is indeed the devil and that she must murder him to save others. But when she does, it appears to open the door in turn for her to become possessed by the devil. While she “wins” in the sense of defeating the adversary, she ultimately loses – like some other thriller/horror GU stories, such as The DarkIn Dreams and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

51CJC31Y6HL._SL160_Wishmaster is another horror movie GU entry where the protagonist is a woman rather than a girl or teenager, and the adversary is some kind of demon or killer. It’s amazing how many of these there are!

Alexandra is an appraiser who is given an extraordinary gem to examine, which turns out to hold a djinn (a malevolent spirit), now released accidentally by some kind of spectral analysis. The djinn always tries to get the person who awakens him to make three wishes, upon which the door will open to his world and all the other djinn can come through. He takes the form of a man he has killed and starts hunting Alex, who has visions of the people he torments along the way. All of the people who assist her (companions) are eventually killed. At one point, she journeys to his lair inside the gem, which although not technically underground, certainly gives that impression. She also returns home at one point (due to a wish). Toward the end, she must rescue a family member – her sister, who the djinn has captured. Eventually there is a final confrontation, and Alex makes a very clever third wish and defeats the djinn.

517LG7B6X8L._SL160_“Stop opening doors that are meant to be closed.”

Haunter, directed by Vincenzo Natali, is a bit of a twist on the haunted house trope, as the girl being haunted is already dead. Lisa, one day shy of her 16th birthday, has been repeating the same day over and over again with her family, unable to leave her house, unable to convince her parents of what’s really happening. She begins to make a connection with the living girl currently inhabiting the house. She is also terrorized by a dark spirit, a man who doesn’t want her to be “awake” (to know she is dead). And her surroundings are becoming increasingly ominous, as her father begins to act violently, and Lisa finds a door in the basement leading to a secret underground tunnel.

Eventually Lisa begins to discover the true history of the house, and the nature of the evil spirit who, as a living man, killed his family, and has been causing deaths there ever since through possession. With the help of the spirits of the other girls who died, and the currently living girl, Lisa faces off against the killer, and breaks her own cycle of repeating days, free to move on at last.

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

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Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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